Researchers funded by the U.S. government have developed an easier and cheaper way of extracting rare earth elements from magnets in electronics. Now the method will be used by a publicly traded company.
The technology, developed by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Critical Materials Institute, is being licensed to Texas-based U.S. Rare Earths, which will use the process to attempt to recover rare earth elements from scrap electronics. The company entered into an exclusive global commercial patent license agreement on Aug. 3. U.S. Rare Earths is traded on the over-the-counter market.
Rare earth materials are key ingredients in magnets in many electronics, including mobile phones, hard disk drives, computers, cars and electric motors. China, which controls nearly all of the mined rare earths in the world, began limiting exports in 2007. That led to greater investment from electronics and car manufacturers and the federal government in rare earth recovery technologies.
The technology being licensed by U.S. Rare Earths uses hollow fiber membranes, organic solvents and neutral extractants to recover neodymium, dysprosium and praseodymium. The membrane extraction system was shown in a lab to recover more than 90 percent of the three elements in a highly pure form from scrap neodymium-based magnets, according to a press release.
The technology was invented by Daejin Kim and Bhave at the ORNL and Eric Peterson at the Idaho National Laboratory. Both labs are partners in the two-year-old Critical Materials Institute.
ORNL spokeswoman Morgan McCorkle told E-Scrap News they don’t release details on license payments because it is business-sensitive information, but the fees are intended to recover, over time, what was invested in the technology.
“The license agreement takes into consideration that bringing a technology to market is a long-term process,” she said.
U.S. Rare Earths calls the new process MSX Technology, short for Membrane Assisted Solvent Extraction.
“Based on conversations around our mutual commitment to U.S. sustainability, we agreed that the recycling of electronic waste will provide a competitive source of neodymium, dysprosium and praseodymium for growing the clean-tech sector including electric vehicles,” Kevin Cassidy, CEO for Plano, Texas-based U.S. Rare Earths, stated in the press release.